Reading about India – Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

I’ll get right to it: this is a beautiful book. I really enjoyed it, and will be buying a copy to add to my bookshelves…

As the title suggests, this is a collection of 9 stories about different religious traditions of the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan and Bangladesh are in the mix a little bit).

The author, William Dalrymple, is sometimes categorized as a travel writer but I don’t really see this book that way. He doesn’t treat his subjects as exotic objects of fascination, or that he is distant or different then they are; he introduces them then gets out of the way. They get to tell their own truths.

In a world where the most militant voices are often the loudest, it’s a real pleasure to read about people who take a more personal, spiritual approach to their faith. Despite the differences in religious expression in each of the chapters, the common threads of tradition, community, yearning for the truth, and love flow throughout the book.

In particular, the chapter on Sufi practitioners in Pakistan should be required reading for those who think only negative things about Islam. The tolerance, compassion, and deep faith expressed on those pages moved me to tears. The world can seem like a hard, cruel place at times but there is great beauty out there, and it’s a blessing and a pleasure to get to meet the people who are contributing to the good.

The Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
The Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
(image by Iamsaa via Wikimedia Commons)
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2 thoughts on “Reading about India – Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

  1. biblioglobal March 14, 2014 / 7:39 pm

    I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it also. What I remember most was the section on the Jain nuns and monks. What I knew about Jainism was just the tenet of not harming other living things. I didn’t know about the goal of deliberately making your life miserable in order to detach yourself from the world. The example of it being considered wrong to open a window when sleeping in a hot room just blew me away.

    • TheGlobalReader March 19, 2014 / 1:19 am

      I agree. That level of asceticism is really intense.
      That chapter felt very melancholy to me.

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